Supporting Young, New, and Minority Farmers

Two grants support Penn State's Extension programs for a next generation of farmers.
Supporting Young, New, and Minority Farmers - News

Updated: October 19, 2017

Supporting Young, New, and Minority Farmers

Two grants support Penn State's Extension programs for a next generation of farmers.

Supporting Pennsylvania New Farmers:

The Start-up, Re-strategizing and Establishing Years

(Beginning Farmer/Rancher NIFA 2014-07502)

Our long-term goal is to increase the success of beginning farmers in Pennsylvania. Success will be measured not only by the numbers of new farms and farmers, but also by their ability to be profitable (netting at least 50% of household income from the farm), productive, environmentally-sound, and engaged in their communities.

Year 1 Progress

  1. On-farm demonstration Models for the Futurevegetable, small fruit and tree fruit plots were established at 7 farms. Farmers put in place best management practices based on interactive discussions with researchers and growers. The on-farm demonstrations provided a place for new farmers to learn both directly during study circle sessions and indirectly through articles published at the Penn State Start Farmingwebsite and three videos produced in Year 1.
  2. Study Circleswere established throughout the state. Advisory groups of farmers designated important topics of discussion and study circles provided a lively framework for new information and discussion for 52 establishing farmer participants.
  3. A ten session New Commercial Fruit Grower Schoolwas developed and held for 27 new farmers.
  4. Study Circle Networks for New Women Farmers were established in three regions of the state for 51 new women farmers.

Information gathered and demonstrated through model plots and study circles was used to create new farmer-specific educational materials including three videos, ten case studies and multiple newsletter articles.


Anton Shannon, owner/operator of Good Work Farm in Zionsville, PA and Models for the Future Demonstration Plot Host leads discussion at a Lehigh Valley Young Grower Study Circle.

Year 1 Outcomes

Beginning farmers have gained knowledge and plan to put that knowledge to work:

  • 95 participants (84% percent) increased knowledge a good or great deal
  • 88 participants (79% percent) plan to adopt new practices

This program supports new farmers at different stages of their careers--the start-up (years 0-2), re-strategizing (years 2-7) and establishing phases (years 7-9) and new women farmers that have not had access to targeted training. Newsletter articles, videos and case studies are available at the Penn State Extension Start Farming website.

Year 2 Progress

"Supporting Pennsylvania New Farmers in the Start-up, Re-strategizing and Establishing Years" is increasing the success of new, beginning and minority farmers through five initiatives:

  1. On farm demonstrations called "model plots" create living classrooms for teaching sustainable growing methods such as the use of cover crops to improve soil health.
  2. Study circles create networks where farmers can learn from each other as well as experts.
  3. Commercial fruit grower schools provide a knowledge base on which to make risk management decisions in orchard enterprises.
  4. Women and Latino study circles provide comfortable learning environments for individuals from diverse backgrounds and interests.
  5. Valuable information from the first four initiatives is used to create educational materials, e.g., videos, case studies, fact sheets, newsletter articles, that are available for beginning farmers on a national scale, and even internationally, via our website.

Our efforts are reaching a broad spectrum of beginning farmers from diverse backgrounds and levels of experience. The model plots and study circles focus on the needs of establishing farmers in years 3 to 7 of their operations as well as next generation producers. Commercial fruit grower schools are designed for start-up and establishing farmers, and the New Women in Ag and Latino study circles are developed strategically for those specific audiences. Our efforts are also far-reaching. We have six Start Farming hubs across the state, five of which have model plots and study circle networks. We have established two bilingual networks and four new women in ag study circles across the state.

Year 2 Outcomes

  1. We are now in our second season of working intensively with 7 new and next generation farmers to create 10 on-farm demonstration models. Each farmer is a host to one or more plots that include vegetable, berry or tree fruit production. Model plot growers demonstrated best management practices on their farms based on interactive discussions with researchers, extension educators and grower mentors. The on-farm demonstrations provided a place for new farmers to learn both directly during study circle sessions held at demonstration sites and indirectly through articles published at the Penn State Extension Start Farming website. This year, we started publishing case studies that review the details of each growing season, and these are made available at Penn State's Start Farming website. The case studies provide valuable information and insight for beginning farmers, including general production methods, field preparation, partial budget analysis, scouting protocols and best practices for disease and pest management. The results of two years of bio-remediation in apple plots are being reported in blog articles and grower journals. Cover crops with bio-fumigant properties significantly reduced the levels of plant-parasitic nematodes, which prevented the need for pre-plant chemical treatments. This represented an economic savings of $1,000-$2,000 per acre.
  2. Study Circles continued in 6 Start Farming hubs across the state. Advisory groups of farmers determined important topics of discussion and study circles provided interactive learning experiences for 322 establishing farmers who represented over 3000 acres of production and over $8 million in gross sales. 78% of participants who completed post-program surveys (N=146) said they planned to adopt a new practice. 71% increased knowledge in an area that will increase crop productivity; 43%, in areas that will help them increase environmental sustainability; and 70%, in areas that will increase profitability. Based on the demographic information provided by study circle participants, a profitability increase of 10% would represent an economic impact of $400,000.
  3. Three "New Commercial Fruit Grower" webinars were held for 75 start-up and establishing growers. Participants who attended either the Year 1 or Year 2 commercial fruit grower schools were emailed follow-up surveys in November 2016. The response rate to date is 30%, with 100% of growers saying they have adopted at least 2 new practices as a result of the trainings. We have exceeded our original goals, and on-line courses in tree fruit production are now being developed.
  4. 109 female farmers participated in new women in ag study circles in 2016, and 69 Hispanic/Latino growers participated in bilingual study circles in 2016. Post-program surveys of women in ag farmers (n=35) indicated that 92% planned to apply a new practice based on knowledge gained. Follow-up surveys of Latino horticulturists (n=32) indicated that 90% adopted a new practice, with 91% of those practices being in the area of production; 27%, marketing; 27%, business management; and 36%, conservation.
  5. Information gathered and demonstrated through model plots and study circles was used to create new farmer-specific educational materials including 15 videos (8 in English, 7 in Spanish), 62 Start Farming articles, and farmer profiles and case studies for 7 model plots. Visits to the Start Farming website have roughly doubled each year of the project, with unique page views in Year 2 totally 449,000.

Sustainable Production and Market Innovations

Next Generation Young and Hispanic Specialty Crop Growers

(PDA Specialty Crop Block Grant ME44144963)

A Penn State Extension multidisciplinary project team created and tested educational programming for under-served growers, namely Hispanic and young individuals interested in a career in horticultural production. These groups represent a promising next generation of successful specialty crop growers.

Team members developed and evaluated the effectiveness of various classroom and hands-on teaching methods, using tree fruit and vegetables as example crops. Andragogies (teaching strategies for adult learners) were evaluated using post-program surveys and interviews. The project was guided by an advisory panel of industry stakeholders, Pennsylvania Department of Education representatives, and university faculty.

Significant progress was made toward the goals of assisting young specialty crop family members and Latino horticulturists in:

  1. targeting local niche and value-added markets,
  2. increasing environmental and socio-economic sustainability of their specialty crop enterprises,
  3. developing pest control strategies to safeguard the environment and human health.

Market Innovations

Objective 1

Increase next generation skills in identifying appropriate markets for their farm-fresh and value-added horticultural products,

Bi-lingual courses were designed to guide next-generation Latino horticulturists in assessing internal and external factors that pinpoint the appropriate niche or specialty market for their products. Four Study Circles on identifying appropriate markets were held for producers involved in the model demonstration plots.

One hundred percent of study circle participants indicated the interactive programming about assessing markets (e.g., interviews of potential buyers and role play on connecting with buyers) helped them assess the best crops to grow based on potential profitability.

Bilingual Study Circle instructors and Latino learners conducted a market study of local Mexican stores and restaurants and the results are posted at Penn State Extension Start Farming, Identifying Markets for Hispanic Produce Growers.

One state-wide workshop course in Spanish was held, and of 23 participants who completed a post-program survey, 52% said they planned to give increased attention to market factors that improve farm profits.

Objective 2

Expand next generation producers' knowledge of market trends in consumer preferences so that specialty crops chosen and produced may meet or be ahead of customer demand.

Young, new, and minority producers participating in this project were taught how to use on-line resources to learn about, and benefit from, food trends as they build custom marketing strategies. Two Learn-Now modules were launched in October, 2015.

Food Business Innovation: Using Social Media introduces next generation growers to the practice of using social media networks as tools for conducting market research. Advantages and disadvantages to social media market research are discussed, followed by how engagement measures, such as "likes" and "shares," can be used to analyze consumer mindset.

Innovating Your Food Business describes how all food products have life cycles, from exciting launch through slow decline. This video shows how to get inspiration to re-energize a business and grow the market share.

Sustainable Production

Objective 1

Increase next generation sustainable production skills by developing integrated fruit production (IFP) orchard scouting resources and training programs.

Next generation specialty crop growers of diversified crops, grown in sustainable systems for local and niche markets, learned advanced strategies for monitoring crop status and predicting the potential for pest and disease occurrence.

During two bilingual courses on IFP conducted for 125 producers, 88% of English speakers and 92% of Spanish speakers said they planned to apply a new IFP strategy on their farm.

Two field training sessions on orchard scouting (using European red mite and apple scab as examples) were held for 48 young growers.

In a post-program survey, 85% indicated they would apply what they learned about disease and insect life cycles, and 100% said they would be interested in attending future scout training sessions.

Fact sheets and scouting report forms, in English and Spanish, were developed for the IFP field trainings, and they are posted at the Penn State Extension Tree Fruit Production website with links at Start Farming. Three commercial tree fruit production videos were produced (one, in Spanish and English), and plans are to utilize these as part of an on-line course for commercial tree fruit producers.

Blogs on European red mite scoutingand monitoring for apple scabwere also posted. A bilingual, waterproof IPM guide, titled A Field Guide to Tree Fruit Disorders, Pests, and Beneficialswas developed in support of these courses and field trainings.

To date, this field guide has been distributed to 550 growers, and impacts will be collected for the final project report.


A young grower practices monitoring apple trees for pests and disease.


Next Generation Tree Fruit Growers gather to hear Assistant Professor of Tree Fruit Pathology, Kari Peter, talk about Apple Scab monitoring, prevention and control.

Objective 2

Engage young and Latino growers in conducting on-farm sustainable vegetable production trials and utilize these plots as living classrooms.

Extension faculty worked with new Latino growers in two locations in the state (Adams and Northampton Counties) to implement innovative, sustainable techniques and assess their impacts on farm economics and environmental sustainability. A vegetable scouting video, in both Spanishand English, was developed for this objective.

Northampton County Model Plot and Study Circle Networks

Team members collaborated with farmer Lexy Rodriguez at the Easton Farm to demonstrate good farming practices including soil fertility and preparation, transplanting, irrigation, integrated pest management (IPM) and proper harvest for food safety and post-harvest quality. Cooperating with the farmer to transform the vegetable production site into a model plot improved the sustainability and productivity on the farm and created a space for aspiring Latino farmers to learn and collaborate.

Six bi-lingual Study Circles were conducted at the model plot, including a program on Exploring the Small Farm Dream, and hands-on living classroom sessions on transplanting, rotation planning, wash station construction, scouting and managing pests, harvest and post-harvest practices and food safety.

As a result of the learning circle network series, 100% of participants learned a good or great deal (n=10). Latino growers said they learned:

  • "about bacteria and how to be careful with the vegetables"
  • "not to replant tomatoes in the same spot year after year"
  • "how to be systematic and follow instructions about food safety"
  • "at what temperature to store tomatoes"

Comments about teaching methods included:

  • "we enjoyed the experience and learned a lot;"
  • "it was excellent learning in Spanish and having other Spanish people in the class - a fantastic opportunity;"
  • "we should have these sessions more often!"

Adams County Model Plot (Amigos Farm) and Study Circle Networks

Horticulture and Ag Entrepreneurship team members worked with three new Latino farmers to help them start their own farm. Through one-on-one mentorship and intensive group sessions they grew five crops in their "model plot" farm: tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, lettuce, and onions.

Educators Tianna DuPont, Montserrat Fonseca Estrada, Marley Skinner, and Miguel Saviroff worked with the growers on a bi-weekly basis throughout the growing season in order to make sure that good farming practices were followed from soil preparation to harvest. The plot served as a living classroom not only for the Amigos Farm participants but also for a larger group of existing and aspiring Latino farmers.

For example, two growers from the Amigos Farm project shared what they had learned about part-time farming with Latino families who had garden plots at the Gettysburg College Painted Turtle Farm. Eleven study circles covered topics such as cover crops, pricing and markets, weed management, staking and trellising peppers and tomatoes, integrated and organic pest management, farm stand set-up, post-harvest handling and storage of onions, and budgets and business management.

Following the study circle at the Painted Turtle Farm, 100% of participants (n=7) said they learned new information and practices such as to use new stakes and field supplies to avoid disease and how to look at a plant to look for symptoms, and 70% of participants said they plan to do something new after what they learned. For example, two participants planned to use new stakes every year to prevent bacterial disease in tomatoes without sprays.


Aspiring Latino Farmers trellis tomatillos at their "model plot" farm located in Adams County, PA.

Key Competencies

Amigos Farm participants improved their knowledge and skills in five or more key competency areas including soil fertility and cover cropping, plant culture and care, pest and weed management, farm management and marketing. For example at the beginning of the season one grower had no exposure to soil testing and fertilizing and during the season not only saw and talked about fertility but fertilized his field with help.

Participants improved their competency in: irrigation; season extension; insect and disease identification, monitoring and control; mulching and cultivating for weed management; record keeping and direct marketing.

Participants said:

  • "I learned how to fertilize to make the plants strong"
  • "I want to learn more about pest and disease management"
  • "It was great because we saw for ourselves what happened if we did not stake the tomatoes or follow other practices (the plants fell)-we learned quickly"
  • "knowing the budgets and what money we made was important"
  • "if I have a chance I will continue--I would love to have a farm next year"
  • "before I was not interested in the disease management, but after seeing it I feel responsible for the plants and want to learn"
  • "the most important was the sales"

Objective 3

Increase access to research-based Extension production recommendations by expanding website content for young, new and minority specialty crop producers.

Extension horticulturists increased specialty crop website content available for this large group of interested new producers and developed various formats of resources in Spanish. Start Farming web-based programs were accessed by 32,500 per month (target was 15,000). Comprehensive Resources in Spanish went up at the Start Farming website in January, 2015, and this has been a highly viewed site, with over 7,000 page views.

Pest Management and Pesticide Education

Objective 1

Expand a new and successful certificate program for young and Latino growers to increase safe handling of crop protection materials.

Pesticide safety educational materials and trainings in English and Spanish were developed on proper chemical selection based on pest identification and the need to protect beneficial organisms and human health. Four certificate courses for 203 producers were conducted.

Knowledge gained was evaluated through case studies, and over 90% of participants successfully solved a case study on protecting pollinators. Evaluations also included questions on planned adoption of new practices. Over 80% of participants planned to use improved pesticide handling practices, and 78% indicated they would apply a new environmental protection practice.

Objective 2

Expand opportunities for English and non-English speaking specialty crop employees in becoming specialized horticultural crop managers.

Team members cooperated with local migrant education and literacy programs to develop and conduct bilingual training programs to prepare horticultural managers to learn to scout their orchards and to take the Pennsylvania Pesticide Applicator Certification private applicator exam. This objective provided additional support for Goal 2, Objectives 1 and 2.

Goals 2 and 3 project leaders jointly developed four videos--Integrated Pest Management in Orchards, Soil Health in Orchards, Orchard Bio-Renovation, and Integrated Pest Management Scouting in Vegetables. The two IPM videos were produced in both Spanish and English. Future plans are to include them in on-line courses for young and Latino growers as well as in on-line safety education courses.

Research on Andragogy Principles and Best Extension Practices for Young and Latino Growers

Surveys to determine learning preferences were conducted at three specialty crop educational programs conducted for Latino learners and three programs for young learners.

The top-rated ways of learning for Latino growers (n= 63):

  • on-farm demonstrations and learning circles
  • special presentations during meetings they already attend
  • in-depth workshops
  • on-line courses (once available)
  • tours of other growers' farms

The top-rated ways of learning for young growers (n=44):

  • on-farm demonstrations and learning circles
  • tours of other growers' farms/research stations
  • in-depth workshops
  • special presentations during meetings they already attend
  • on-line courses (once available from Penn State)

Top-rated ways extension and other agriculture professionals might increase/improve education and engagement with Latino growers:

  • increase use of social media for outreach and extension
  • hold educational events at the farms of Latino growers
  • hold some educational programs specifically for Latino farmers - to increase networking opportunities
  • provide interactive formats at educational events, such as hands-on/problem solving activities and field walks
  • provide opportunities to network with extension personnel and other agriculture providers
  • invite Latino growers to participate in educational events as round table members or mentors

Top-rated ways extension and other agriculture professionals might increase/improve education and engagement with young growers:

  • hold educational events at the farms of young growers
  • provide interactive formats at educational events, such as hands-on/problem solving activities and field walks
  • show that you take young growers seriously through personal contact
  • provide opportunities to network with extension personnel and other agriculture providers
  • hold some educational programs specifically for young growers - to increase networking opportunities

Factors Latino grower survey respondents felt limited them from participating in educational activities/utilizing extension resources:

  • timing of program/ workshop (offered during planting, harvest, etc.)
  • cost
  • location

Factors young grower survey respondents felt limited them from participating in educational activities/utilizing extension resources:

  • timing of program/workshop (offered during planting, harvest, etc.)
  • topics not relevant
  • location

These results will be reported in extension and grower publications and also be used to guide future extension programming for young and Latino specialty crop growers.